Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has revealed which pupils could go back to school first – but warned it was still possible that none would return before the summer.
In a briefing this afternoon, she said that those pupils most likely to return first include vulnerable pupils, those making the transition from primary to secondary school, and secondary students sitting national qualifications.
However, she said that safety was the first priority and that full reopening of schools and nurseries at the moment would "overwhelm hospital capacity in a number of weeks", as cases of coronavirus would surge upwards again.
"We will not compromise the safety of your children," the first minister said.
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Ms Sturgeon also said that the Covid-19 outbreak was at a "really critical moment" and that the country should not "take its foot off the brake".
Coronavirus: The question of reopening schools
The Scottish government has also published a document today looking at how lockdown measures might be eased.
It states that, in the most likely scenario, full reopening of nurseries and schools at this time "would cause a resurgence in the virus such that hospital capacity in Scotland would be overwhelmed in less than two months".
📺 Watch live: First Minister @NicolaSturgeon holds a press conference on #coronavirus (#COVIDー19).— Scottish Government (@scotgov) May 5, 2020
Joining the First Minister today is Scotland's Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith.
The document also states: "We are considering a phased approach to returning pupils to school, when it is safe to do so. We do not consider it likely that schools will reopen fully in the foreseeable future. Indeed, we are not yet certain that they can reopen at all in the near future.
"The Education Recovery Group (ERG) has been established, chaired by [deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney]...The first main task for the group is to model what a phased approach to school reopening will look like. The ERG has been asked to consider the 'what' and 'how' of phased reopening, but not the 'when' as this will be a ministerial decision guided by the evidence on progress in suppressing the virus."
The document outlines options that are being examined by the ERG – which involves the Scottish government, local authorities and "key stakeholders", including teaching unions and parent representatives – in planning for schools to return:
- Developing a chronological list of priority groups who would return to school in an agreed order (for example vulnerable pupils and pupils who are in transition, eg, from P7 to S1 or those about to commence national qualification courses in S3-6).
- Modelling a new approach to schooling for the foreseeable future. To enable ongoing physical distancing, most pupils are likely to have a blend of in-school and in-home learning. This would include attending school part-time in blocks of a few days or even a week at a time, to enable deep cleaning of schools between groups. Learning at home will be supported by consistent, high-quality online materials which will be developed to support the curriculum.
Ms Sturgeon also spoke today, when taking questions from journalists after her initial statement, about reports that primary schools in England could open at the start of June.
"We all read in a Sunday newspaper that, in England, there may be a plan to reopen all primary schools on 1 June. I cannot and should not comment on whether that is appropriate for England because I'm not privy to all the evidence ministers there will be privy to," she said.
"But I do know, as things stand – although we keep this under constant review – looking at the evidence that I have, I could not put my hand on my heart and say that I think that would be a safe thing to do in Scotland.
"So nobody surely is suggesting to me that I should allow schools to open in Scotland when I don't think it's safe to do so, just because there's been a decision elsewhere in the UK."
She added: "I will only be driven here by what is best to tackle this virus. Politics, constitutional or otherwise, or ideology, don't enter into this for me. I'm sorry if that doesn't suit some people, but it is absolutely what I'm going to stick to in terms of my own decision making."
Just before Ms Sturgeon's briefing, it emerged that the general secretaries of 10 teacher trade unions across the UK and Ireland had written to the education ministers in each of their jurisdictions urging "significant caution in any consideration of reopening schools".